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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Evangelizing Evangelicalism

Written by: on January 31, 2018

Religion in America

Evangelicalism is difficult to define since it has no permanent roots or central gathering place like the Catholic church with the pope in Rome. Additionally, there are many kinds of evangelicalism: Pentecostal, fundamental, charismatic… as well as the numerous denominations represented. Interestingly, “The word denomination was first used in English to describe those Christians who dissented from the Church of England, but the underlying belief that the true church was invisible meant that visible differences between different groups were less important.”[1] From the protest of the Catholic church, Evangelicalism was born and the “disenchantment brought a new uniformity of purpose and principle.”[2]

Evangelical churches appear to be going back to their roots of their covert definition of denominations meaning the true church is invisible and group distinction appears less significant. As a child, I noticed there was far more emphasis on denominational backgrounds, but now, the emerging modern church appears to be less inclined to emphasize the churches denomination and more about identifying themselves as a community church for all. It is not uncommon for many of the local churches to change their name and remove the denomination origin out of their title. I believe the founding fathers of the United States would approve of the decreased emphasis on denomination as they “likewise adopted a position of denominational neutrality.”[3]

Evangelicalism and social ministries often partnered together through the pages of history. From the Red Cross to para-church ministries like Youth for Christ, it is clear Evangelicalism has had a large impact on modern Christianity and the social work field of today. The intertwined agendas of social justice and spreading the gospel created powerful organizations intent on righting the wrongs of the day while simultaneously ministering to the human spirit. Since true religion is considered to be the service of caring for orphans and widows,[4] than physical care without spiritual exhortation would make it a hollow evangelical experience. To care for the body and the spirit also bespeaks of blending the secular with the spiritual. Taylor reinforces this concept as he talks of combining secular and religious objectives as “they were generally lived as compatible, and parts of a coherent normative outlook.”[5]

Evangelicalism was influential in scripting the modern family and roles for the genders. ” What we see time and again in evangelical writings is the idea of the family as a microcosm of wider social and political relationships. These relationships by their very nature were gendered, and social ordering between the sexes was a deeply politicized act in evangelical culture.”[6] Unfortunately, the evangelical church has expressed much disagreement about the role of women leaders in the church, which has compromised the unity in the church, created dissension, and confused society about the role of women. As a consequence, “…female leadership in the church have become highly charged and adversarial, which often obscures the vital and creative interweaving of Christian spirituality and constitutive social ideals based on relations between as well as within the sexes.”[7]

Evangelicalism can counteract the gender conflict in three pronounced ways: listen more carefully to the issues complicating the problem and write a new narrative for both genders leading together. “Yet when it comes to questions of gender, it seems to be particularly difficult for historians to exercise the disciplined art of listening. We have been susceptible to making the past into a sounding board from which we catch nothing but the echo of our own voices.”[8] Secondly, resist segregating people by gender as it prevents men and women from benefiting from one another’s influence and modeling to others how to work together effectively and indiscriminately. “However, by separating the public male and the private female spheres from one another, the model fosters a neglect of the complex and multiple ways in which these spheres intersect and interweave.” [9] Choose leaders based on skill and ability, not on gender and the natural divide will be absolved.

Thirdly, be knowledgeable of historical belief systems that influence churches to operate hierarchically: “..medieval Catholicism….hierarchical complementarity. This was certainly recognized as an organizing principle for the society as a whole. For instance, the famous formula: the clergy pray for all, the lords defend all, the peasants labor for all, encapsulates the idea that society is organized in complementary functions, which nevertheless are of unequal dignity.”[10] Hierarchical systems have influenced churches to operate with hierarchical practices, most often patriarchal, which counters the leadership model of Jesus as he was inclusive of both genders in leadership. As a church, by understanding where leadership models originate from, we are able to discern between what God is modeling versus what society is subtlety scripting for the church.

Evangelicalism and its role in society are summed up concisely with Miller in his book Global Pentecostalism: “whereas churches are stable institutions with deep roots in their community.”[11] How can we, in whatever form of Evangelicalism we practice, be stable institutions with deep roots forming safe, deep relationships within our communities?

relationship

[1] Donald Lewis and Richard Pierard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History & Culture in Regional Perspective, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 257.

[2] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 146.

[3] Lewis and Pierard, Global Evangelicalism, 261.

[4] James 1:27

[5] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 104.

[6] Lewis and Pierard, Global Evangelicalism, 291.

[7] Ibid., 272.

[8] Ibid., 271.

[9] Ibid., 280.

[10] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 45.

[11] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), 41.

 

About the Author

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Jennifer Dean-Hill

9 responses to “Evangelizing Evangelicalism”

  1. Mary says:

    Jen, yes the church is changing in ways that I think are good, too. Denominationalism should not be to primary identifying marker. We have enough to disagree over as it is.
    Your comments on women are great.
    “Choose leaders based on skill and ability, not on gender and the natural divide will be absolved.”
    and
    “Hierarchical systems have influenced churches to operate with hierarchical practices, most often patriarchal, which counters the leadership model of Jesus as he was inclusive of both genders in leadership”
    I think that makes a great discussion question and one that we have touched on a bit – Who influences who more? – does the church influence the culture or the other way around?
    And so, “How can we, in whatever form of Evangelicalism we practice, be stable institutions with deep roots forming safe, deep relationships within our communities?” I guess that why I’m at Portland Seminary. What part can I play in that?

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    Wow Jen,
    You did that thing!

    Your breakdown of evangelism was great!!

  3. Jim Sabella says:

    Jenn, thanks for highlighting the hierarchy structure of the church. This is one point in my research on middle-leadership—the hierarchy of the church often makes it difficult for people to really “lead” from the middle. In my opinion—all two cents worth—ever leader in the church should study the hierarchical structure of the church and how it impacts their ministry and leadership. The church is unique among organization in this quality. Enjoyed your post!

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Well-said Jim. The more knowledgeable the leader is on the hierarchical system, the better the health of the church. A new term I recently learned, heterarchy, which is everyone leads or takes turns leading. If you are unfamiliar with the term, you can google it as I don’t do it justice. I really like it and have been pondering how it would work in church leadership. Have you heard of it?

  4. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Jen, the three suggestions for counteracting gender conflict/bias within the church are inspiring! 😉 As I’ve said before, the church would be a lot healthier, more like what God desires for us, if we could look at and use the gifts of the Holy Spirit in each of us, rather than base our responsibilities on gender.

    You wisely ask, “How can we, in whatever form of Evangelicalism we practice, be stable institutions with deep roots forming safe, deep relationships within our communities?” My first response to that question would be a challenge for churches to actually BE in the community; to not see themselves as people who GO to church, but who ARE the church, living in proximity to one another, and actively seeking the welfare of our neighbors. How do you answer your question?

  5. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    I would answer it with we first need to define and understand what is a deep, safe relationship. Too many people struggle to even know how to love, resolve conflict, or just enjoy one another, which creates mistrust, misunderstandings, and unmet expectations, making relationships difficult to develop. Fear becomes the motivating factor -fear of being alone, fear of not belonging somewhere, etc… and love is stifled in the relationship building process. In our culture, I often see relational skills need to be taught because they were not inherited. That’s my short answer 🙂

  6. Jennifer,
    I really liked the format of this post, going back and forth between Evangelism and Evangelicalism… it was a great way to highlight things.
    I also really appreciated your delineating specific concrete ways that we can counteract the ‘gender conflict’. I am definitely going to be listening more carefully!

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